East Anglia deserves rail investment, urges AGA head Burles

It is East Anglia’s turn for rail investment, according to the region’s principal passenger operator.

Abellio Greater Anglia Managing Director Jamie Burles, in an exclusive interview with RAIL, said: “There are billions being spent, even during times of austerity. We want some and believe that it is our turn.”

Burles highlighted that neighbouring operators such as East Coast and the future Govia Thameslink Railway (previously labelled Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, TSGN) will be getting new fleets, while the West Anglia inner suburban services that London Overground will take over from AGA are also destined for new trains. Meanwhile, AGA is using a fleet with an average age of 251⁄2 years. 

Speaking of the new long-term franchise award to start in 2016, Burles said: “There is the same ambition across the board. The DfT has to either specify new or specify output specification that can only be met by modern trains. We are very keen that that is the plan.”

But it is not just the main line on which Burles is focused, or the expresses. “It is not just inter-city. Think about the Class 317s. Some will go to West Anglia inners, and we have 94 Class 321s too. These are ageing trains. We do want to uplift across the patch, and that needs a significant uplift of the DfT.”

He believes the two short-term franchise deals in place since 2012 have hampered progress: “There has been a succession of short-term franchises. It is our turn. Look at Essex Thameside, it has a modern fleet but is getting new trains. TSGN is also getting new trains.” 

Burles spoke of being set up nicely as a result of the new long-term deal. “The timing is fortuitous. We are very keen to press upon the DfT with a cohesive voice. This area has a big GDP, and we need the infrastructure and franchise investment.”

A single platform fleet is a possibility, although nothing is confirmed. “The common platform tweaked for the market is an Abellio plan. It is not the only solution, but it is an interesting one. It gives a base level of cover so that instead of cancelling trains, you can recover from a pool of trains. There are lots of benefits for that.

“Abellio’s modus operandi is to take the long-term project. It is irrelevant who runs it . The region needs the rail service.

“We are a premium paying TOC. We pay to the DfT, so we pay for others. We want to see that reinvested. Both customers and stakeholders deserve that.”

He added: “We want DfT to set the bar as high as is possibly affordable. That is nothing to do with us as an owning group, it is purely to do with the region needing that.”

Read the full, exclusive Jamie Burles interview in RAIL 756. 

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